Wednesday, August 14, 2013

(Not) Love and Death: On Michael Haneke's Amour

(Not) Love and Death: On Michael Haneke's Amour
by Vlad Dima
Bright Lights Film Journal

Michael Haneke's latest film begins abruptly with the police breaking down the door to the apartment of the two octogenarian protagonists, Georges and Anne. The violent intrusion is underlined by the fact that we go, with no transition effect, from complete silence and black screen to noise and color. This type of intense narrative shift is common in Haneke's films. Long periods of apparent stability and quiet are followed by sudden spurts of incredible viciousness, in The White Ribbon (2009), Funny Games (2007, and 1997), or Caché (2005). I say "apparent" because violence lurks just beneath the narrative surface of Haneke's films, its presence felt constantly. So when it does emerge, it is not just for shock value. Oddly, it soothes us, providing momentary relief from the stress accumulated throughout the film. Child beatings, shootings, throat slashing are part of the director's repertoire that may force the audience into a sadistic position, but we avoid them in Amour. Or so it seems. Make no mistake, this is a violent film, but its ferocity comes from being forced to confront our own mortality. This is not a film about love, as the title purposely misleads us. This is a film about death, and worse, our death.

The inclusion of "us," the audience, in the film's thematic concerns commences immediately following the sequence in which the police find Anne's rotted body in the apartment. We begin with a flashback to a night when the couple went out to a classical music concert given by one of Anne's old students, Alexandre. In a beautiful fixed shot, we can see the spectators in the theater as they are waiting for the show to start. After a long moment, as the shot turns into a long take, we become aware of the missing reverse shot. The stage is never shown. We, the "real" audience, are suddenly facing the diegetic audience. We are the reverse shot. So we are pulled into the narrative through a counter-cinema artifice. The lack of reverse shot also points to the impossibility of suture; thus the very beginning of the film points to breakdowns, some literal (the door), some metaphorical (the apparatus of cinema and, by extension, life).

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